Brian Campbell is 37 years old, playing nearly 20 minutes a night on the top pairing on the top team in the Western Conference, and he started laughing before the question was even completed.
Can he see himself playing well into his mid-40s, the way the legendary Jaromir Jagr has?
“No,” Campbell said, emphatically. “I don’t imagine it, and it won’t happen.”
But Campbell didn’t have to look far to think of someone who can. How about the guy who has 11 goals already as his 38th birthday draws near? The guy Kris Versteeg described as a “Greek god” thanks to his chiseled physique. The guy who is signed beyond his 42nd birthday.
If anyone can do what Jagr has done, it’s Marian Hossa.
“I could see Hoss,” Campbell said. “He did sign about that long.”
Jagr is a freak of hockey nature, third on the all-time list in goals (752) and points (1,879) despite spending three full seasons in the KHL from 2008-2011. His obsession is singular and mind-boggling. He reportedly works more than four hours a day on his 44-year-old body. He’s had a key to the rink on his last several teams, so he could skate on his own whenever he felt the need. He has said he started doing 1,000 squats a day as a 7-year-old to get an edge.
“I’ve got two kids, so I run around,” he said with a laugh. “That’s kept me in shape.”
It’s a bit more involved than that, of course. As he’s gotten older, Hossa’s daily routine has become far more elaborate — he shows up to the rink earlier than he used to in order to stretch and prepare his body, and he stays later than he used to in order to help his body recover. He takes more days off than any of his Hawks teammate, a right he’s earned after being the consummate professional throughout his 18-plus seasons in the NHL.
The wear and tear on Hossa is different than it is on Jagr. Hossa plays a more physical game, using his size and power to ward off defenders and go hard to the net. And Jagr has had just one deep playoff run — with the 2013 Boston Bruins, who lost to Hossa and the Hawks in the Stanley Cup Final — over the last 15 years.
In fact, perhaps no player has played as many heavy minutes as Hossa has in the past decade, with five Stanley Cup Final appearances and a conference final since the spring of 2008. And age appeared to have caught up with him last season, when he scored a career-low 13 goals in 64 games.
But his first long offseason since the 2012 lockout rejuvenated him.
“That definitely helped me to recharge the batteries and take a long break from hockey,” Hossa said. “Right now, I feel l’ve got more enthusiasm, more energy, and I feel like I have more drive.”
His teammates have noticed. Even the ones who are barely half his age.
“Hossa’s the type of guy who’s going to play as long as he wants to play,” said Vinnie Hinostroza, who has happily stepped in as Hossa’s center with Jonathan Toews out. “He’s probably one of the most in-shape guys here. I mean, look at him. He’s always working hard, he’s never taking anything for granted. It’s cool to have him in the locker room, it’s cool to learn from him and it’s special what he’s doing.”
The question is, does Hossa even want to play as long as Jagr, who entered the league as a fabulously mulleted Penguins rookie 26 years ago, before nine of the current Hawks were even born? Hossa said he’s always intended to play out his entire 12-year contract, which runs through the 2020-21 season. Health always has been the only thing that could stop him.
A back injury suffered during the 2013 Stanley Cup run plagued him for more than a year, but is now a distant memory. Hossa is still startlingly quick on the backcheck, and so freakishly strong that, in Hinostroza’s words, “It’s pretty much impossible to take the puck away from him.”
“He’s showing everybody this year that he’s not slowing down one bit,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Hossa called Jagr “amazing” and “impressive,” but cautioned that “everybody’s different.” That said, he’s certainly not ruling out the idea of following in Jagr’s ancient footsteps.
The way Hossa sees it, he’ll play as long as he’s still having fun. And, boy, is he having fun.
“It matters what level I’m playing at,” he said. “If I feel like I’m not playing at my level, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. But if I am playing the level I feel I am playing now, it’s still fun.”